Mobelife gets patients walking again


A Leuven company is helping patients all over the world to walk again, thanks to its made-to-measure, 3D printed hip implants

Individualised implants can be ready in 30 days

In one of its recent video news reports, the international press agency Reuters covered the story of a teenager in a wheelchair who learned to walk again. This tour de force was possible because an innovative implant manufactured by the Leuven-based Mobelife. In the last two years, this small Flemish company has made a name for itself with the made-to-measure implants it creates through 3D printing for patients with complex hip joint problems.

At the Mobelife offices in the Leuven district of Heverlee, CEO Tim Clijmans tells me more about the Swedish teen who was featured in the Reuters clip. “She suffers from Von Recklinghausen’s disease, which severely deformed her left hip because of a tumour that destroyed her pelvis,” he explains.

The girl ended up in a wheelchair four years ago, and her deteriorating condition forced her to leave school and be home-schooled instead.

Two years ago, the girl’s doctor at Skane University Hospital in Lund learned about the implants made by Mobelife. “The doctor sent us her CT scans, and we set to work,” Clijmans says.

Mobelife was established in 2008 but has only been commercially active for two years. The specialists use the precise image processing technology of 3D printer developer Materialise to first analyse the patient’s bone anatomy and quality.

One essential aspect is the position of the screws in the implant, which need to be in an area of the bone strong enough to keep the implant in place. Part of the implant is also made of porous material, enabling the bone to grow into the implant, essentially incorporating it into the body.

With computer models, the Mobelife team then carries out a biomechanical simulation of certain movements, virtually testing, for example, whether the implant would enable the patient to go up a staircase without difficulty. This simulation incorporates, among other things, the strength of the muscles and joint, bone quality and the body weight of the patient.

Faster than ever

The design of the implant is always carried out in close co-operation with the surgeon, who has a through overview of the clinical condition of the patient. The position of the screws are also fine-tuned to the needs of the surgeon. If the design is finished, the implant is 3D printed in titanium in one day with extreme accuracy at the company LayerWise in Leuven. In less than a month, the surgeon receives the all-in-one customised Mobelife implant.

We don’t replace the standard implants for routine treatments, but provide added value in the rarer cases

- Mobelife CEO Tim Clijmans

“Our engineering know-how and 3D printing skills mean that we can manufacture accurate implants much faster than with more traditional techniques, like moulding and milling,” explains Clijmans. Because there are also four specialists working at the office of Materialise in Malaysia, in a very different time zone, images can also be processed around the clock. At Heverlee itself, Mobelife consists of a team of 20 specialists, most of them biomechanical engineers.

In the case of the Swedish teenager, the reconstructive surgery was carried out in September 2012, and she didn’t feel any more pain after a few days. By Christmas, she was walking with a single crutch. The girl is now back in school and, although her disease causes her serious physical problems, she is still out of her wheelchair.

Over two years, Mobelife has helped about 140 patients, the majority of them with complex hip joint problems. “We don’t replace the standard implants for routine treatments, but provide added value in the rarer cases,” explains Clijmans.

Mobelife helps patients with extreme osteoporosis, which causes an acute decrease in bone mass and density, increasing the risk of fracture. The company is now taking steps to perfect implants for shoulder joint surgeries.

About 40 patients in Belgium have received a Mobelife implant. These implants, which cost between €10,000 and €14,000, have all been completely refunded by the medical insurance agency Riziv. “The 3D printing technique is still not cheap, but our customised products prevent many replacements of dysfunctional standard implants, which also saves money,” explains Clijmans.

Since its launch, Mobelife has gradually expanded its global scope. They have produced implants for patients in all of the Scandinavian countries, have clients across Western and Eastern Europe and have distribution centres in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Recently, one patient in Hong Kong was the first in Asia to receive a Mobelife implant.